Key San Francisco Races Hitting High Gear

by Randy Shaw on September 17, 2012

With absentee voting beginning in three weeks, San Francisco’s key races are in an all-out sprint to the finish line. We have seen major new developments in the D5 Supervisors race, and the all to rare display of two campaigns in D1 that continue to do everything right. One recent poll found Norman Yee with a surprisingly large lead in D7, and while its numbers merit closer scrutiny, they do confirm that, unlike 2010, this will be a name recognition election. On ballot measures, Mayor Lee has done the seemingly impossible by avoiding serious opposition to Prop C’s creating an affordable housing trust fund and Prop E’s changing the way the city collects business taxes. Support continues to build for Prop A, the city college parcel tax, and Prop B, the park and playground bond. Here’s my current assessment of all of these races.

Surprises in D5

I’ve followed politics a long time but have never before seen a candidate do what London Breed recently did: viciously attack your political benefactor in a way that effectively destroys your political base and chances for victory. Breed’s well-publicized attack on Willie Brown made absolutely no sense, particularly given how Brown supporters—including his own son–had contributed to Breed’s campaign.

John Rizzo did nothing to hurt his campaign, but despite being an elected Community College Board Trustee who has won a citywide race, his D5 race is going nowhere. He is unlikely to take many votes from Julian Davis, who will get the Bay Guardian endorsement and has clearly emerged as the choice of the Bay Guardian-left.

Davis has many of the same endorsements Deborah Walker had in her losing D6 race to Jane Kim, but lacks Walker’s money and name recognition. Nor does he have Walker’s major support from the SF Labor Council; incumbent Supervisor Christina Olague is the D5 candidate with the broadest labor support.

Davis’ challenge is that he is unknown to far too many D5 voters in an election where a lot of people who don’t pay much attention to city politics are coming out to vote for president and state ballot measures. Some believe that the small size of districts enables every major candidate to be widely known by Election Day but this is not true in presidential years when voters’ attention is on the national race.

My suspicions about name recognition were confirmed in the recent POA poll. It found that 49% of D5 voters did not even know who the supervisor candidates were. This helps explain Supervisor Christina Olague’s almost doubling the poll numbers of her closest competitor (13%-7% over Breed) while Davis and others were under 5%.

While the poll was taken several weeks before the election, candidates have been campaigning and doing mailings and lit drops. As we enter a period where the airwaves will be dominated by the No on 37 (labeling genetically-modified food), Yes on 30 (Brown tax measure) and Prop 32 (anti-union, pro-corporation campaign funding measure), attracting attention to the D5 race could become more difficult.

Down to Wire in D1

This is the time of year when political insiders are usually marveling at how poorly a particular campaign is being run (e.g. Mitt Romney). The Mar-Lee race in D1 offers the opposite—two very savvy campaigns both playing to their candidates’ strengths.

Since Jake McGoldrick defeated Michael Yaki in 2000, conventional wisdom is heard that both McGoldrick and now Eric Mar are “too progressive” for D1 voters. McGoldrick’s victories were attributed to weak opponents, while Mar is said to have won solely because his two closest moderate competitors did not tell voters to make the other their second choice (this was before the Oakland mayor’s race showed the clear benefits of this ranked-choice strategy).

After three straight D1 elections in which the winner was the most pro-tenant candidate, can the landlord-backed David Lee reverse this trend and defeat solidly pro-tenant incumbent Supervisor Eric Mar? Lee is running a smart campaign downplaying tenant issues in favor of attacking Mar for vacant storefronts in the Richmond and for not addressing quality of life issues.

But on the signature economic development issue of his tenure, Mar backed the critical Mid-Market/Tenderloin payroll tax exemption. This makes Lee’s case that Mar is weak on job creation and economic growth less credible. It’s also unclear whether voters will blame the district supervisor for vacant storefronts on Clement Street.

With tenants feeling vulnerable amidst skyrocketing rents on vacant units, Mar’s pro-tenant record could be the deciding factor in the race. And with labor making Mar’s re-election its top San Francisco priority, Mar should have the resources to compete with Lee’s business and real estate donations.

The race is still a tossup, and should go down to the wire.

Is Yee Headed for Victory in D7?

The most surprising numbers from the POA poll had Norman Yee at 24%, Mike Garcia at 14%, and F.X. Crowley at only 6% in the D7 race. Yee’s greater name recognition from his School Board races clearly is a key factor here, as is his being the leading Asian-American in a district where this demographic group’s numbers are on the rise.

Given Crowley’s successful fundraising, his low numbers are disappointing. Lack of name recognition is clearly a problem, as it is for Garcia despite his tenure on the Board of Appeals.

These poll numbers make it easier for Yee to raise money and harder for everyone else. This race may not to be the close contest that everyone once thought it would be.

Props A, B, C, E Looking Strong

Because the City College parcel tax (Prop A) and the Park and Playground bond (Prop B) need a 2/3 vote, they face a steeper challenge than the Affordable Housing Trust Fund (Prop C) and the switch from payroll to gross receipts tax (Prop E). Mayor Lee also devoted considerable time to assembling the broadest coalition of support for these latter two measures, which now face no organized opposition.

Prop A is seen as a life or death measure for City College, and has wide and passionate support. Those opposing Prop A on the grounds that the college should not get more money until it proves it can adequately manage its funds (an argument that curiously never applies to Pentagon or CIA budgets) are primarily anti-government voters who make up far less than 2/3 of the San Francisco electorate.

I have previously described the unexpected and misguided opposition to Prop B, which includes many of the same fiscal oversight arguments opponents are using against Prop A. I heard from a number of people claiming that I underestimated the ill-will people feel toward Park and Rec leadership.

Actually, I am well aware of these feelings. My point is that preventing parks and playgrounds from being maintained and improved is not a productive response to such sentiments; it’s wrong to penalize kids because you don’t like how Rec and Park makes decisions. Considering that the sites to be funded by Prop B have already been selected through a public process that nobody appears unhappy about, the criticisms against Park and Rec management on other issues do not apply.

I think the large voter turnout helps all of the above measure pass.

It’s a bit too soon to predict San Franciscans will be as happy on Election night 2012 as they were in 2008, but given current trends—-and with better state results than we had in 2008, when Prop 8 passed- the mood in the city could be close to that historic evening.

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